Polenta with Fresh Corn


I love summer!!

On Thursday night, when Grandma and WG joined us for dinner, I combined grilled steak with fresh, home made pesto. I’d never done that before. Why?! It was delicious. Forget sweet barbeque and steak sauces, which I rarely use. This is a combination that I will definitely make again. S also put some hickory wood chips on the fire and that also enhanced the flavor without making it smokey tasting. Mmmm.

And, what goes with steak and a mediterranean sauce? Polenta.

I made way too much – the reference recipe from Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking” said that it would make 4 cups. I actually used slightly less polenta and came out with much more. Definitely enough to serve 8, which meant that Grandma and WG got to take home some leftovers to eat grilled or fried on another day.

We all liked the addition of corn to the polenta. It added a texture and burst of flavor that were delicious and unexpected. I made the polenta a little creamier by combining milk and water for the cooking liquid, plus some parmesan and a little butter at the end. Another keeper. The girls are not big soft polenta eaters, but they do like it grilled. I will make this for them when they get home!!
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Mmm Mmm Meatballs

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Last week, my friend MKG asked me if I had a meatball recipe.

Her request had great timing because it gave me an idea. Meatballs and spaghetti would be the perfect dinner for a crowd. So, I asked her if she would mind waiting a week for the recipe and she said, “No problem.” It has taken me a bit longer to post the recipe than I’d planned!

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Last Tuesday, I made the meatballs for Wednesday night’s dinner. I was a bit ambitious in my proportions because I thought we’d be 10 for dinner, but we were only 9. And, I thought my nieces liked meatballs, but they only like meat sauce. Oh, well – they were just fine having spaghetti with tomato sauce and no meat. Once they knew that there were meatballs, we couldn’t smoosh the meatballs and disguise the sauce as meat sauce.

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Burger Bun Bonanza

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There are some grocery items that are so standard, and ubiquitous, they are not something that one would consider making at home. Unless, you are a little bit strange, like me. I would like to make many of those standard items. In fact, many go with tonight’s dinner: ketchup, bread and butter pickles, potato chips, and burger buns. Of them, I’ve only made potato chips – and only a couple of times. I’m not that into making deep fried food at home (hot oil phobia from bad burns as a child), with the exception of jelly donuts at Chanukah.

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With some extra time on my hands this afternoon, I tackled burger buns. Our friends that joined us for dinner tonight gave me a bread baking book many years ago, so that is where I turned to for the recipe. Bernard Clayton’s “New Complete Book of Breads” has a plethora of recipes from easy to complex, yeasted to quick, traditional to esoteric. “The” Hamburger Bun recipe was easy, yeasted and traditional. I made it in the food processor for speed and so that I could minimize the amount of added flour (for lightness). I also used instant (or Rapid Rise) yeast, because I bought a big package of it a while ago (to make Speedy No-Knead Bread).

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Jekyll and Hyde

Meatloaf Pre-Cook

Am I a foodie? Am I not a foodie?

Sometimes I am one or the other. Last night, I was both.

L looked at the menu for the week and declared that “Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes were made to go together”. Where did I ever get this genius idea? Incredible. As the parent of a ‘tween, I go from brilliance to mind numbing stupidity in the blink of an eye. But, last night I was Einstein at the table. Smart enough to put the two dishes together, and smart enough to not sweat the details….sometimes.

So, here is where I make my foodie/not a foodie admission. I love meatloaf. Not such a non-foodie food, you could say it works well as comfort food or could be considered retro trendy. Especially in this economy. But, I have never found a meatloaf recipe that is as good or easy or flavorful…here it comes…as the one that I make using, gulp, A MIX. I’m looking at the package now: McCormick Meat Loaf Seasoning Mix. Which has a full 14% of your daily value of sodium per serving. I think I only tried the mix because I really wanted meatloaf, couldn’t find a recipe that I liked and just bought it. Now, I don’t even try new recipes for this dish. I’d probably make my own ketchup before I made my own meatloaf at this point. Embarrassing, and yet, predictable, delicious, flavorful, moist (if you use ground chuck), easy. I’m all for ease. I’m all for homemade. Just because I use a mix, doesn’t mean it isn’t homemade.

Meatloaf Prep

Still, I feel guilt. It is in my nature and my genetic make-up. If I were served this meatloaf at someone’s home, I’d ask for the recipe. I’d be surprised that it was a mix, pleased to know that a mix could be that delicious. But, making the meatloaf with a mix myself, I feel like it is somehow not worthy. I’m nuts.

How do I make up for what feels like a lapse in judgement, even though it is clearly not that? What about the consumption of hydrolyzed corn gluten, among other taste enhancing ingredients in the packet? First, we don’t have meatloaf very often. Second, I got 2 lbs. of grass fed beef (unfortunately, not chuck, so it was a little dry). Third, the sides that I served were wholesome. Whoo hoo. Light fluffy yukon gold mashed potatoes. Steamed carrots (raw snap peas for L, because she doesn’t like carrots – though I sweetly request, i.e., force, her to try each time). Crunchy salad with balsamic vinegar and basil olive oil.

We were too hungry to take photos once the meatloaf was out of the oven. The meal was scarfed down before I could find my camera.

And, for dessert….those Pepperidge Farm Bordeaux cookies were still in the cabinet. Served with some fruit, of course.

Freezer Favorites

Penne with Bolognese Sauce
Homemade Bolognese Sauce takes a long time to make, so it is good to make it in a big batch and throw some in the freezer. I did that a couple of months ago and it made short work of dinner on Wednesday night, even though it is technically “slow food”. I don’t even remember the recipe that I used for the sauce that I defrosted, but I think that I based it, loosely, on a recipe from the Barilla web site. I tasted bacon in the sauce, and from what I remember, I didn’t have all the right ingredients and the recipe was not what I expected (which I didn’t realize until I was well into the process). In fact, I was trying to make the lasagne and was pretty tripped up by the lack of liquid. Since the recipe used “no boil” noodles, I didn’t think it would work very well given the very low ratio of liquid in the recipe (almost all of the liquid in the sauce gets cooked out and there wasn’t enough in the bechamel to be absorbed by the noodles and still have some body to the layers). This was definitely a lesson in reading the recipe fully before starting.

I had dreamed of re-creating the lasagne that J had when we were in Rome a few years ago. It was an incredibly luscious lasagne al forno, with very thin pasta in many, many layers. Definitely a bechamel style dish – no ricotta. My version did not turn out nearly as I would have wanted it, but I think that I remember what I did wrong (aside from not making my own fresh noodles…). I’ll try again some time and post the results.

Wednesday night’s dinner was just penne with the sauce, some parmesan gratings and a simple salad. No fuss.

Weekend Guests

Orange & Currant Scones

Weekend guests are always a welcome change of pace, especially when they make everyone in the house so happy. This weekend was particularly great because our guests surprised L for her birthday and she was utterly and completely astonished when she saw them.

Our Saturday birthday dinner was for nine people. I made it as easy as possible by putting together the ice cream cake during the week and by using some key purchased ingredients as time savers. Yeah, I know, it is whimping out and doesn’t seem very gourmet, but I’d rather spend time with my family. The first short cut is Soy Vay Veri Teriyaki marinade. I think it is the easiest way to make flank steak. I take the flank steak, throw it in a zipper bag, pour in some marinade, and zip the bag. Do this a few hours before grilling the steak and the result is tender, flavorful meat. Is it as perfect as a great homemade marinade? Definitely not. But, I haven’t found a great marinade that I love and it is veri veri easy (I may try the marinade that I used for the pork tenderloin next time that I have flank steak, though).

Second, Jade Sichuan Peanut Sauce is a condiment that I’ve been using for years to make cold peanut noodles. You take a pound of angel hair (or rice noodles) and cook them, drain and rinse them in cold water. Julienne some red peppers, carrots, and cucumbers (snow peas are also a good addition). Slice some scallions and chop some cilantro. Put the noodles and the vegetables in a bowl. Pour on about a cup of the sauce. Mix well. If you want the sauce to have a little bit more thickness, warm some (2 tbsp. or so) peanut butter and combine it with the sauce before you put it on the noodles.

So, I basically did very little work, and much of it ahead of time, for our family dinner party. The ice cream cake was a winner and we polished the leftovers off at snack-time today. The homemade toffee was great on the cake because we got “motherlode” chunks instead of the small pieces of bits-o-brickle.

Ice Cream Cake

This week is another non-standard week. S is out tonight and then goes away with J for some skiing (since she got shortchanged by L’s injury) on Thursday-Saturday. So, L and I have 3 nights of dinner where it is just the 2 of us. I think we’ll have meals that would not appeal to J – salmon, shrimp, and spicy food are some ideas. I’m leaving those days mostly open so we can decide together.

Here is the plan for the next couple of days:
Monday – Pea Soup, panini sandwiches with steak
Tuesday – Grilled chicken breasts, artichokes, herb roasted tomatoes
Wednesday – Pasta with Bolognese sauce (from my freezer), salad
Thursday – Little Shrimp Casseroles (Jacques Pepin), Asparagus
Friday – TBD
Saturday – TBD
Sunday – Dinner with friends

Grandma Joined Us for Dinner

Grandma and her hubby, W (not Dubya!), were supposed to come to dinner on Friday, but L was sick with a fever and we didn’t want to infect anyone. Frankly, while L got the bug at school, I think she was more susceptible because she had hardly slept all week. Between the pain of the broken leg, the anxiety about getting around on crutches, and the discomfort of sleeping with the cast, she needed some sleep – badly. So did we. Friday, I just couldn’t lift a pan. So, we ordered in pizza and were all in bed by 9:00.

Then a fairly un-busy weekend. Early swim meet for J on Saturday. Friends for dinner on Saturday night – very fun (the pasta strategy worked!). Lots of homework for L.

And, we got to have Grandma and W’s company for dinner on Sunday. I got lucky in the in-law department and love having my mother-in-law and her husband here for dinner. We always have fun and interesting conversations over dinner and wine. This time, given the beautiful weather, S grilled some grass fed rib-eyes outside and I put together some simple sides: asparagus, mushrooms, and rice pilaf. We shared the two extra lemon tarts, that our friends brought over on Saturday night, for dessert with some honeydew melon.
Steaks Ready to GrillMaking Rice PilafAsparagus
And, the bonus for me was that W, an excellent photographer, took a look at this here blog and gave me some really good pointers about photo composition. So, I hope the photos on the blog will be better and tastier looking in the future!